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The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (1944)

by Karl Polanyi

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,3931411,437 (4.22)1 / 28
In this classic work of economic history and social theory, Karl Polanyi analyzes the economic and social changes brought about by the "great transformation" of the Industrial Revolution. His analysis explains not only the deficiencies of the self-regulating market, but the potentially dire social consequences of untempered market capitalism. New introductory material reveals the renewed importance of Polanyi's seminal analysis in an era of globalization and free trade.… (more)
  1. 00
    War and Social Change in Modern Europe: The Great Transformation Revisited by Sandra Halperin (x_hoxha)
    x_hoxha: Wide-ranging history that presents a critique of Polanyi's account.
  2. 00
    Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia by Steven Stoll (M_Clark)
    M_Clark: Ramp Hollow expands upon many of the points made by Polanyi in its in-depth look at the economic development of Appalachia.
  3. 00
    The Revolution of Civil Society. Challenging Neo-Liberal Orthodoxy: The Development of the Progressive State by Michael Lloyd (M_Clark)
    M_Clark: Michael Lloyd's book, although difficult to read, provides a more comprehensive critique of neo-liberal thinking.
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» See also 28 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Polyani shows that the collapse of the unregulated market economy in the 1930's was not accidental but represented the end of a period in economic history and the beginning of a new one. His conclusions are colored by his socialist presuppositions but do not differ significantly from those of Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. (1963)
  GLArnold | Jul 15, 2022 |
12/10/21
  laplantelibrary | Dec 10, 2021 |
It's difficult to review this book. I can see why it has been considered a classic and why it is still read today. The author is very knowledgeable in the economic history of the 19th century and his breadth of vision is impressive enough to captivate even critical readers. On three accounts, he criticizes the idea of a society organized solely on free market principles: (1) labour, (2) land and (3) money cannot be bought or sold as commodities. Attempts to supply them through free markets were made in the 19th century and early 20th, and this book is an attempt to illustrate and emphasize how destructive those attempts were.

However, although the book is fine as far as illustration and emphasis are concerned, I think it falls short on explanation. The writing is superb but the logic of the arguments often seems flimsy. The author discusses a number of events from the history of British industrialization in the 19th century and compares them occasionally to anthropological studies of primitive societies. But far too often the discussion yields no clear conclusion. It seems like the author then skips ahead without having established any cause-consequence relationship, and states his preferred conclusion as a matter of fact: the consequences of this or that policy were disastrous. Considering the breadth of the author's arguments and the consequences he attributes to them, the explanations he provides are far too brief.

I don't mean to say that I was not convinced. As far as I could tell, the author's three main points are valid criticisms of free-market liberalism. But this book needed to be at least twice as long if the author wanted to present truly convincing arguments for his main points. In comparison to the writers whom the author criticizes, such as Hayek and von Mises, his biggest failure is that he does not present any clear theoretical framework for the transformation he describes. I'm not sure if that framework should have been an economic theory or a theory in social or political philosophy, but something theoretical needed to be said to truly make this book a work for the ages. It still stands as a fine intellectual achievement in economic history and a pleasure to read 75 years after it was written, but it's also a product of its age. I could not see what practical implications it might have for societies in the 21st century.
1 vote thcson | Jan 7, 2020 |
Everyone should take the time to read this book, along with Keynes [b:The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money|303615|The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money|John Maynard Keynes|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1415594896s/303615.jpg|1711698] (esp. chapter 26 if I recall well...)

This was a pivotal book in my PhD (accepted as an MPhil due to methodology and scope problems, partially due to my inability to separate out all of the issues discussed by Polanyi across multiple books) work on Economic Social policy.

ShiraDest,
5 November, 12015 HE (the Holocene Calendar) ( )
  FourFreedoms | May 17, 2019 |
Everyone should take the time to read this book, along with Keynes [b:The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money|303615|The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money|John Maynard Keynes|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1415594896s/303615.jpg|1711698] (esp. chapter 26 if I recall well...)

This was a pivotal book in my PhD (accepted as an MPhil due to methodology and scope problems, partially due to my inability to separate out all of the issues discussed by Polanyi across multiple books) work on Economic Social policy.

ShiraDest,
5 November, 12015 HE (the Holocene Calendar) ( )
  ShiraDest | Mar 6, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Karl Polanyiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Jelinek, HeinrichÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In this classic work of economic history and social theory, Karl Polanyi analyzes the economic and social changes brought about by the "great transformation" of the Industrial Revolution. His analysis explains not only the deficiencies of the self-regulating market, but the potentially dire social consequences of untempered market capitalism. New introductory material reveals the renewed importance of Polanyi's seminal analysis in an era of globalization and free trade.

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Beacon Press

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